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The man X-Factor Verity blames for crushing her chance of fame; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: MATT ROPER

SHE is the X-Factor contestant who moved tough Simon Cowell to tears. The emotionally charged story of singer Verity Keays was so distressingly sad that it melted the hardest heart on TV.

"Even I got touched," Cowell reluctantly conceded after the blonde wannabe told of how her former husband had banned her from accepting the record deal she had always dreamt of.

This is the first picture of Samuel Keays, a man who has suddenly gone to ground since his ex sensationally denounced him to millions of stunned viewers.

Within months of this happy marital scene the couple's smiles had faded and they were embroiled in a bitter break-up.

Knowing little of her difficult history, Cowell is simply entranced by Verity. He compares her to Olivia Newton-John.

"There's something real about her," he declared as he chose her as one of the finalists of ITV's hit talent show.

But here's one thing that isn't real about Verity Keays: her name. She has changed it no fewer than FOUR times.

Her extraordinary life has been defined by a quest for stardom which so far has added up to nothing but a long saga of failure across two continents.

But she says her turbulent marriage cruelly crushed all her ambitions for three decades.

SINCE splitting with her husband four years ago she has thrown a veil of secrecy over her troubled past.

But today the Daily Mirror can reveal the remarkable truth about a woman whose air of mystery has made her one of X Factor's most compelling characters.

A close friend says: "For years, even she didn't seem to know who she really was or what she was doing."

Rob Dabb, a childhood friend and 50-year-old Keays's new singing partner, adds: "After her divorce Verity's self-confidence was just zilch. The past three years have been a real struggle.

"She's only just started trying a few things out in the studio and performing in public again."

Verity was 15 in 1970 when she met Simon Grace, a 23-year-old entertainer doing the local circuit of clubs and holiday parks around north Lincolnshire.

Friends remember him as a "motormouth" who was always caught up in his plans to make it into the big time. He boasted he'd left his difficult father in Manchester and grown up as "The Artful Dodger" on the streets of London, changing his name by deed poll from Dave Bunce. Meanwhile, teenager Verity Grimes, daughter of a successful local family of restaurateurs, was fast becoming a singing sensation in her home town, Grimsby.

A close friend says: "Verity was singing in a band and was really turning heads. She had this angelic voice and she was stunningly pretty. Simon had an average voice - nothing special. It was like he knew linking up with Verity would be a great career move."

Oddly, she changed her name to Verity Makepeace. One friend says: "It may have been because Simon didn't want people to remember her without him. He tried to completely remould her in his image."

The pair lived in Simon's motor home and travelled the country as a double act. While touring in 1974, they stopped off at a petrol station, went to the local register office and got married. Verity was 19.

No members of their families were present and the couple registered their address as "Saxondale Service Station, Bingham". The only witnesses were the proprietors of a local dancing school.

Friends and family were shocked. One says: "Her family were furious that they weren't invited to the wedding. She and Simon were always together - you never saw Verity without him. When they walked she always stayed one step behind him."

After a decade trying to break through in the UK, Simon whisked his wife off to the States.

First living in Los Angeles, they eked out a living singing at weddings and corporate dinners and touring with a tribute act to British singers such as Phil Collins, Rod Stewart and Cliff Richard. They made efforts to get near to the stars, becoming friends with the nanny of Steven Spielberg's first wife, Amy Irving.

Verity, who was good at imitating kids' and baby voices, did voiceovers for TV and radio commercials and cartoons. Simon made some money taking publicity photos for small-time entertainers - but his dream of landing a recording contract proved elusive. Desperate to hit the big time, the couple moved to country music capital Nashville, Tennessee, living in a log cabin on the outskirts. Animal-lover Verity kept dogs and even took in an abandoned pig.

Joyce Rice, a close friend, remembers: "They didn't seem like husband and wife - more like a father and daughter. Simon was clearly the one in control.

HE did everything his way and Verity went along with it. He married her young and raised her the way he wanted her to be."

Another friend, Rhonda Renee, adds: "Verity was good at everything she did. She supported Simon and without her he couldn't have done the things he did. But Simon was the one who made the decisions, and Verity went along with that.

"Simon was a kind of 'flim-flam' man. He'd never steal or cheat, but he knew everyone and how to get things. His pride would never allow himself to ask for help or be a burden on anyone." Everything had to be done his way - even down to their food. Joyce says: "He had his own special diet. They always ate cod, but it had to be Icelandic and deep-sea. Verity prepared the meals and they never ate in restaurants. Even when they were away from home they brought their own food with them."

They sang on albums produced by country label CMH, including Star Spangled: Songs Of America and Songs Of The Civil War, but no one showed any interest in signing the duo.

Rhonda says: "It was clear to everyone that it was Simon who was holding them back. She was the stunning one with stage presence, the one with the amazing voice, and Simon probably resented that.`"

Friends remember Simon as obsessed with his image, while Verity was naturally stylish and attractive. He was seven years older than her, but told everyone there were only three years between them.

Joyce says: "He was getting really frustrated that he wasn't getting what he wanted. He took up race-walking, always dragging Verity along with him. He was like a bullet, zooming around the roads of Tennessee in the blistering heat.

"And there was Verity, following him around with a stopwatch and his food. She's very fair, and the poor thing would always get burnt in the hot sun."

Then a record company in Nashville approached Verity, wanting to sign her as a solo act. Simon was dead set against it, and Joyce remembers the tension.

"Verity obviously wanted to go for it. It was everything she'd ever wanted," she says. "But he refused and eventually she gave in."

Perhaps feeling that he was losing control of his more talented partner, Simon dragged her back to Britain in 1998.

He gave a newspaper interview describing the duo as the hottest new act in country music across the US, and said they were earning more than pounds 250,000 a year. He claimed they had a record deal with EMI but left Nashville because of the violence.

"We were the first Europeans to sign a record deal with EMI," he boasted. "But there is such a lot of violence over there and there were three different instances where we nearly got shot and killed."

A few months later the couple changed their names by deed poll again. Simon became Samuel and Verity became Emma, and they took the surname Keays.

Rhonda sa`ys: "I'm sure there was a plan. Simon was always big on a plan. But it may have been the final straw for Verity."

She filed for divorce in October 2001 after 26 years together - a shock to those who knew them. Joyce says: "She never complained and was so supportive. It must have taken a lot of courage and guts for her to finally take that step."

Verity now lives alone with her golden retriever William and gives singing lessons to local children for pounds 10 a half-hour.

So sure is she of X-Factor success that she has already told her pupils to start looking for a new teacher.

CAPTION(S):

CONTROLLING: Friends say husband Samuel resented Verity's talent - admired by Simon Cowell (inset); SECRETS: Verity has craved stardom for 30 years
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 22, 2004
Words:1425
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